France, Italy want single EU bank regulator by January

France and Italy led a call by five euro zone member states for the European Union to press ahead toward setting up a single banking regulator by the end of the year to be running in 2013.

The leaders of France, Malta, Spain, Italy, and Portugal met in Malta on Friday at a summit with North African countries as part of the 5+5 group of Mediterranean countries.

The leaders in a joint statement said the next European Council on October 18-19 "must pave the way towards the establishment of a single European banking supervision system, to be decided before the end of the year and operational by January 2013".

European leaders have agreed in principle to work for the creation of a single banking union in which member states would jointly back their banks as a means of shoring up the European financial system.

But Germany, the bloc's biggest economy, has expressed doubts about whether it will be possible to get a joint system of banking supervision up and running by the start of next year.

Speaking before the meeting, French President Francois Hollande said the issue of a banking union would be one of the key issues facing European leaders as they sought to shore up crisis defenses at their October meeting.

"What I want is that at the European Council we can demonstrate Europe's readiness to settle these questions, notably concerning the banking union," he told a press conference.

The leaders sidestepped the question of whether or not they believed Spain would seek European aid.

"It's up to the Spanish to decide on their own what to do," Hollande said.

"To put forward an aid plan with the conditions attached which would have to be clarified or not, if they don't need it."

Speaking to reporters at the margins of the meeting, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he would seek the best decision "without ruling out any possibility".

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Michael Roddy)